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As Brits Return to International Travel Possible Plague Is Next, Expert Warns

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As Brits finally travel abroad once more this holiday, a testing expert warns we should all be on guard against the spread of new viruses. Just as monkeypox probably spread to the West from Africa, now there is a rise in bubonic plague cases in the Congo, ‘tomato flu’ in India and haemorrhagic fever in Iraq. Conditions are ripe for the spread of formerly contained diseases.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and monkeypox outbreak have caused distress and alarm throughout much of the world. However, the bubonic plague, commonly known as the Black Death, the pandemic of the 1340s was many times more deadly throughout Eurasia and North Africa. Now there is a new outbreak of the virus in Africa. A leading testing expert says that, as we all return to international travel, normally localised diseases are a cause for concern.

The leading infectious disease and testing expert, Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘The encouraging news about the current monkeypox outbreak is that, while it is an unpleasant, painful disease, there have been no recorded deaths outside those countries where it is normally found.’

‘The Covid pandemic, in contrast, has been responsible for the death of more than 6 million people so far. That, however, is eclipsed by the Black Death which, at a time when there was a far smaller population, killed more than 75 million people including half the inhabitants of medieval Europe.’

‘Now there is a new outbreak of the bubonic plague in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in Africa. The bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis. Humans usually get the plague after being bitten by a rodent flea carrying the plague bacterium . Today, modern antibiotics are effective in treating plague but, without prompt treatment, the disease still kills.’

‘Most concerning is the fact that, in a similar outbreak in the DRC last year, cases of pneumonic plague were recorded. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), primary pneumonic plague can be transmitted from human to human.’

‘It primarily attacks the lungs, is virulent and quickly fatal. The incubation period ranges from 24–72 hours and death through asphyxiation comes within one day, says Doctors Without Borders.’

‘Why is this a particular threat this year? We are all returning to international holidays just as travel to and from the DRC is getting significantly easier.’

‘It has just joined the East African Community (EAC). Congolese citizens wishing to visit the other member countries – including the UK’s closest African trading partner, Kenya – without a visa will be able to do so once new legislation has been passed. Once that happens, scientists and medics across the West and here in the UK will have to keep this disease in mind.’

‘It’s not just travelling to Africa that could be problematic. Iraq is suffering from an outbreak of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, a tick-borne virus with a fatality rate of up to 40%.’

‘Case numbers are significantly higher than in previous years. Iraq has now confirmed a total of 98 infections and 18 deaths since the beginning of 2022 with almost half of this year’s cases and one-third of the deaths recorded within the past two weeks. The disease can be spread by contact with infected people’s blood.’

‘Other countries are also battling the spread of concerning diseases. In India, multiple cases of so-called “tomato flu”, which creates a rash very similar looking to monkeypox, are being monitored.’

‘Could these outbreaks cause problems for people in Europe? Normally, the answer is that this would be unlikely. For example, previous plague outbreaks in 2005 and 2021 did not spread from Africa. However, it is possible that facilitating factors such as global warming and increased international travel could aid the spread of viruses, particularly at the moment, as countries emerge from the relative isolation caused by Covid.’

‘In March 2022, there was a case of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever in the UK. In February, Bedfordshire recorded three cases, with one death, of imported Lassa fever, one of the most dangerous haemorrhagic viral infections.’

‘Why are viruses currently able to spread so fast? Covid-19 may have left some people with weakened immune systems. New research from scientists in Cambridge indicates that some Covid patients show profound alterations in many immune cell types that persist for weeks or even months after Covid infection. Weakened immune systems could make us more susceptible to new diseases.’

‘One final reason for the spread of all kinds of viruses, from plague to monkeypox to “tomato flu”, is that many of us, even those who have never caught Covid, have less resistance to viruses because we have interacted less with other people during the pandemic. We’ve all been masked up and had less exercise and exposure to the protection offered by sunshine’s vitamin D. Certainly for children, this lack of exposure to new viruses won’t have helped build robust immune systems.’

‘Of course, in the UK there are no private blood tests available for certain diseases, including bubonic plague, as the chances of infection currently remain small. However, a general health test might be a useful course of action for everyone to ensure they are in overall good health to help fight the symptoms of new viruses as they emerge.’

‘London Medical Laboratory’s Health Profile Test provides people with a comprehensive check-up of their general health, including vitamin D, B12 and B9 levels, diabetes (HbA1c), liver & kidney function, full blood count, bone health, iron levels and a full cholesterol profile. It can be taken at home through the post or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer this test across London, the southeast and selected pharmacies and health stores.’ 

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